With news breaking that the House of Mouse is planning another live-action reboot of an animated classic, there is increasing concern that Disney Studios have finally run out of original ideas.
It was inevitable that Snow White would be turned into a feature-length movie: it joins the likes of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, all already announced and now in various stages of production. Earlier this year, Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book adaptation stormed the box office, along with the lesser-seen Pete’s Dragon a few months ago.
Over the last few years, the trickle that began with 101 Dalmatians, and its sequel, has turned into a flood. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland made over $1bn at the cinemas; Maleficent (which saw Angelina Jolie tackle the Sleeping Beauty story) was generally well-received to the extent that, of course, sequel plans are well underway.
These films were followed up by Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous Cinderella retelling, which kickstarted the fast-tracking of a number of films made to harvest the studio’s impressive animation back catalogue (let’s all forget about the Alice sequel Through the Looking Glass shall we, everyone else seems to have).
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first feature released by the studio in 1937. Since then, Walt Disney Pictures’ animation department has produced 55 films in total. In 2006, the already-successful Pixar Studios were brought under the umbrella of Disney. As a result, 2016 has proved to be a bumper year for the company in commercial terms, with The Jungle Book joined by Zootropolis and Finding Dory near the top of the year’s box office. In addition, the studio continues to expand and now also encompasses Marvel Studios and the ever-expanding Star Wars Universe.
All these factors mean that Disney has a vice-like grip on what cinema audiences watch. With films performing as well as they do, it’s hard to argue with the commercial and critical success and find fault with the bigger plan. You only have to look back at the dark days of the 1980s and early 1990s, and failures such as The Rescuers Down Under and The Great Mouse Detective, to see how far the studio has progressed — but has this success come at the expense of originality?
We could spend ages quibbling about the pros and cons of the likes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or the Avengers universe, but for now let’s just focus on the adaptations of animated classics. I’ll let you decide if an Indiana Jones reboot or another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel is a statement of originality by Disney as a whole…
Also off the table for today are the sequels produced by Pixar. The once-exciting young pretender was undoubtably responsible for a burst of excitement in animation, its fresh design and compelling new take on kids films once left audiences in awe. Now that Disney is in charge, we get a mediocre Monsters Inc. sequel and Toy Story 4.
What worries me is the ongoing revamping of classic animations into live-action blockbusters. Of course, most of the stories themselves weren’t ‘original’, taken as they were from fairytales or popular legends like Robin Hood, but the slew of remakes on the way signals a more general lack of creativity.
When audiences go to the upcoming Mulan update, they will expect to see many of the well-known scenes from the animation, and the same will be true with Snow White. The Jungle Book tried to keep the songs to a minimum, but despite its greater focus on the Rudyard Kipling source material, it had to bow down to audience expectations in the end.
This stifles creativity and innovation. Sure, there is a level of technical achievement to admire, and we’re waiting with baited breath to see Emma Thompson as the singing teapot in Beauty and the Beast next year, but it’s hardly an original idea.
And where will it all end? Once the ‘good’ films have been redone, will we end up with live-action versions of Oliver and Company? No thanks!